Worldbuilding is like flying towards your fantasy world with a large camera in your hand. At each step you zoom in another level. In the last post we considered cities.
It’s difficult to progress any further in this exercise without having some idea of individual characters about which you wish to write stories. We’ve briefly considered the type of fantasy we want to write, and created terrain with the idea that it will hold specific races, or species of creature. It’s time to delve deeper and bring the camera to the ground.
Take your time over this step. Your characters are going to be central to your story. You need to get to know them. The type of people you choose may influence the future steps that your worldbuilding takes, because you need to define the world your characters live in from a personal point of view.
Let’s have a think about the types of character we can introduce into a fantasy world. When you’re thinking about characters, consider the ways in which they may be able to develop and the types of conflicts they may face.
- Do you have a quest or epic save-the-world type scenario? If so, you’ll need a hero(ine).
- Do you want a brave, outgoing type of hero or a reluctant hero?
- Will your hero have special skills or abilities or will they be a regular person who has to rise to the occasion
- What flaws do they have and how will they use their journey to improve their character?
- If you have magic, you will need magic wielders – eventually this leads to needing to develop a system of magic
- Will you have traditional witches, wizards and warlocks?
- Will magical power be instinctive, genetic or something you can learn?
- Can people train to use magic or is it restricted to certain classes or families?
- What limits will these magical persons have?
- Who’s in charge of your city – do you want them to play a key role in your story, or to be a force/government merely in the background.
- Do you have a royal family, or a democracy, or some other kind of rulership?
- What problems do the rulers have to deal with – family issues, controlling the local populace, civil war, external war?
- Is there any immediate threat to the city/country that the rulers have to deal with?
- Who holds the power in your city? And does someone else want that power?
- Do the rulers trust their advisers?
- Is there a servant or slave population?
- What are general attitudes towards servants, are they downtrodden or do they have an opportunity to rise above their situation?
- Are they loyal or manipulative?
- Consider the bog standard population of the city. What’s the general standard of living like? What home comforts do people have?
- Do people have the opportunity to make their own choices in life and better themselves?
- What are the societal norms and what happens to those who rebel against them?
- Do you have a mixture of high-born and low-born people, and would they ever mix?
- Do you want your main character to be human/humanoid or do you want to choose a character from another race?
- What are the societal norms for the race or clan that you choose? You will have a blank slate in this respect.
- Will you rely on recognised myths for your other races, or you do intend to reinvent them and give them your own twist?
Other points to consider:
The roles of men and women:
- Do you have traditional roles for men and women in society?
- What sex are your leaders and rulers?
- Consider how parental roles may affect your characters
- Consider how marriage expectations and rituals may affect your characters
- Are there any restrictions on what either sex can do, with respect to occupation or family life?
- Is equality of the sexes something your society values?
Young adult/children’s books:
- Commonly, the main character in books tends to be the age of the expected audience, so you may need a child or teen in this role
- What attitude do the families in your world have to their minor children?
- What freedoms or restrictions apply to children?
- What are the family expectations on children, and what are the consequences of refusing these expectations?
- Are there other authority figures that impact upon the freedom of children – teachers, rulers, or guardians?
- Does your society have a coming of age ritual for a young person?
- Does your young person have a mentor or someone they admire?
Once you have an idea, as general or specific as you like, of one or more characters, you can use this information to help the rest of your worldbuilding. Imagine your character walking around in their world. Think about what they do every day, where they live, what they eat, who their family are. This information will end up being part of the backstory of your character, but it can also be used to focus your worldbuilding as we continue this process.
Back to my medieval city now. I’ve had some ideas for character outlines growing in the back of my mind whilst I’ve been writing this series. All I know about them at the moment is who they are, what their occupations are, and tiny bit about their background. I’m choosing three characters to start with:
One: The Bored Princess
The princess lives in the castle. Her father, the king, rules the country and has no time for getting to know his daughter as a person. Her mother died in childbirth, and her father was never very keen on children. She has no peers in the castle. She spends her days with a private tutor but hates most of her lessons. One day, she will have to marry, and she knows her father hopes her marriage will help cement a relationship with a nearby country. She dreads the day when potential suitors start turning up.
Two: The Elderly Castle Wizard
The castle wizard has been elderly since the princess was a baby. He has powerful magic, but these days chooses to spend his time meandering around the castle and city, chatting to people and helping out with small problems. He loves telling stories. He looks on the princess as if she were his favourite granddaughter, and is concerned about her future. If any of the younger city wizards have magical problems, the castle wizard is the first person they turn to. He is very much loved, but few know the man behind the magic.
Three: The Apprentice Wizard
Parents apprentice their children out to various trades in the city. The city wizards take on a certain number of apprentices each year. The elderly castle wizard tries to get to know them all, although he does little teaching these days. This boy is a new apprentice. He knows nothing about magic and is nervous about his apprenticeship. He wanted to become a wizard to make something of his life, but now he’s an apprentice, he’s not so sure its a good idea.
So now, I can imagine my princess yawning in the castle, my elderly wizard strolling around the city, and my apprentice stressing out over his magic training.
Join me again, soon, for the next post in this series!